Longer schools years, summer school, and tutoring ahead to make up pandemic learning loss

Over the past pandemic year, more Kansas students are struggling and more students who graduated high school last May are postponing their post-secondary plans, according to preliminary data.

If not addressed, the situation could have a negative impact on students and the state for years to come. The question now is what are educators going to do about it.

The State Board of Education on Tuesday considered a volume of data that shows Kansas students, just like their peers across the nation, have suffered because of learning disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Board member Jean Clifford, R-Garden City, asked if the learning loss can be made up through summer school. Kansas Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson said he was “hoping we can make this up over time” with multiple extended years, summer schools and tutoring.

The key to providing that additional learning time will be the use federal funds through the first two COVID-19 packages and an expected third one, which will push approximately $1 billion over the next several years to Kansas schools. Watson has appointed a task force to oversee use of the funds.

State Board Chairman Jim Porter, R-Frontenac, said, “There is a lot of money out there. Hearing the excuse,`We don’t have enough money,’ is simply not valid.”

Through national and state measures, Watson said the number of students who need extra help in reading and math has grown.

For example, in a sample size of 25,920 Kansas students, the percent of students at or above the reading benchmark decreased by three percent between 2019 and 2020. The national decrease was one percent The largest percentage decreases were from kindergarten through second grade.

In math, in a sample size of 13,818 Kansas students, the percentage of students at or above benchmark decreased by nine percent, while the national drop was eight percent.  

In a survey on social/emotional wellbeing of students from kindergarten through eight grade, teachers reported little difference between 2019 and 2020 but students were more apt to report having difficulties.

Watson cautioned that much of the data was preliminary but certainly fit with what is being seen nationwide.

In addition, the high school graduating class of 2020, which ended its last year in school in remote learning, is entering post-secondary programs at a slower rate than the 2019 class.

“This is going to have a significant impact on the workforce of the future,” Clifford said.

Kansas’ public post-secondary institutions, including universities, community colleges and vocational schools, dropped four percent this school year with the enrollment of Kansas students falling six percent. Private college enrollment in Kansas fell four percent with enrollment of Kansas students decreasing 21 percent.
In addition, the percentage of students who had planned to take post-secondary classes in the fall of 2020, but who changed those plans was higher among low-income families.

Watson said he wants to make sure those students who put off their plans for post-secondary school re-visit those plans.